Unbridled joy has overtaken crews on three Sea Shepherd vessels as they celebrate a Japanese surrender from whaling in the Antarctic this year — and possibly for all time.
“Everybody is overjoyed, laughing and crying and hugging,” said Izumi Stephens, who is serving aboard the Steve Irwin, one of the three vessels harassing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.
I spoke to Izumi by satellite phone after the Japanese government announced an end to whaling a month early this year. (See story by Martin Fackler in the New York Times Global Edition.) Japanese analysts are now speculating that whaling in the Southern Ocean may never resume, because of the costs, challenges and changes in the market for whale meat.
“We think the entire thing could be finishing,” Izumi said of Antarctic whaling efforts. “This may be the last year in the Southern Ocean for everybody.”
Check out recent stories in the Japanese news organization Daily Yomiuri Online, one of which includes this statement:
“In addition to Sea Shepherd’s acts of sabotage, low domestic demand for whale meat — which used to be a valuable source of protein during the food-scarce postwar years — also has made the prospect of continuing whaling extremely gloomy, officials said.”
Izumi, if you recall, is a Japanese woman who lives on Bainbridge Island. After her husband died, she became committed to opposing the killing of dolphins and whales. She joined Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in November as a Japanese-language translator and has spent the past three months involved in the high-seas campaign against the Japanese whalers. See Water Ways for Jan. 14 and Nov. 1.
The so-called surrender has become big news in Japan, and Izumi has taken calls from Japanese reporters and conversed in her native language:
“I’ve told them that this is a big, big victory, a big victory for the whales. We are not against the Japanese people or the Japanese government. We are against the whalers…. We are not terrorists; we are just intervening against the commercial whalers.”
Through the Internet, Izumi has been keeping up with numerous Japanese news reports and blogs, where she has found herself under personal attack.
“People in Japan are mad at me. They call me a traitor to my country.”
Izumi is the first Japanese translator for Sea Shepherd to make her identity known to the public. During taping for the television show “Whale Wars,” she has not covered her face or kept her name secret, as previous Japanese translators have done. The revalation of a possible end to whaling in the Antarctic has raised her profile more than she anticipated.
“I never expected that it would be like this final end,” she told me.
She had imagined that the whaling season would end, as usual, in March and she would return home to her family. Then she would have all summer to decide if she should do it again. Instead, the “Japanese surrender” a month early — with uncertain prospects for the future — has created a media blitz and new level of anger in Japan.
“I can see in the newspapers that people are really mad,” she said. “My face is coming up on Japanese TV.”
The Japanese whaling organization, known as the Institute of Cetacean Research, consistently calls Sea Shepherd an eco-terrorist organization. The group regularly complains that Sea Shepherd’s flagship countries, Australia and the Netherlands, fail to take action for acts of “terrorism and harassment,” including bombardment with glass projectiles, smoke bombs and “incendiary devices.” The latest reports talked about the use of lasers aimed at the whaling ships. See ICR new releases.
According to the report in Daily Yomiuri Online, the processing ship Nisshin Maru was unable to shake off the faster Sea Shepherd vessels Bob Barker and Gojira.
Capt. Paul Watson, who directs Sea Shepherd, said the ability of his ships to stay with the whaling fleet made all the difference in this year’s success in minimizing the number of whales killed. Scroll down to the bottom of this entry to view the on-board video that Watson issued Saturday.
The Daily Yomiuri story quoted anonymously a high-ranking ministry official, who outlined four options for continued whaling:
- Have the whaling fleet escorted by Japan Coast Guard vessels or others, an idea discussed in 2007 but scrapped for lack of escort ships.
- Build new whaling vessels capable of traveling at high speed, an idea considered “almost impossible” because of costs.
- Replace research whaling with commercial whaling, an idea that lacks support from other countries.
- Continue current whaling arrangements, which has proven to be costly and difficult given the interference of Sea Shepherd.
Izumi said none of the options seems likely, but one never knows.
Another issue faced by the Japanese, she told me, is the success of the television show “Whale Wars,” which has brought notoriety and donations to the anti-whaling cause. The Japanese government may be concerned that Sea Shepherd will use its new-found clout to bring more attention to the decline of blue fin tuna (See Operation Blue Rage) and to the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and other places around the world.
For now, Izumi is eager to get home to Bainbridge Island.
“I am really homesick,” she told me. “I want to squeeze my kids and pet my dogs and maybe take a nice hot shower. Yes, a long shower.”
Said Watson in a news release:
“I have a crew of 88 very happy people from 23 different nations including Japan and they are absolutely thrilled that the whalers are heading home and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now indeed a real sanctuary.”
The Steve Irwin is scheduled to meet up with the Bob Barker and return to Hobart, Australia. Izumi hopes to fly back home to the Puget Sound region on March 10.